HARTFORD, Conn. --
On December 5, a few Connecticut National Guard leaders gathered in a small conference room at the Governor William A. O’Neill State Armory to present Airman 1st Class Sikander Rahman with the USO Service Member of the Year Award. What would typically be a more formal event, held in Washington, D.C. with a larger audience, was a much more modest occasion due to COVID-19 guidelines. However, the circumstances did not diminish the significance of the moment or what the award meant to Rahman.
The United Service Organizations, Inc., a nonprofit corporation that supports members of the armed forces, honors six service members each year with the USO Service Member of the Year award. The award specifically recognizes service members who have gone beyond the call of duty in the performance of heroic acts. Rahman, a 20-year-old Airman, who had not even served a full year as an operational member of the Air National Guard, beamed as Maj. Gen. Francis Evon, the Adjutant General of the Connecticut National Guard, presented him with the award. For those who know Rahman personally, the honor could not have been bestowed upon a better person.
“He has a very big heart,” said Master Sgt. Jonathan Shepard, fuel system shop chief who supervises Rahman at the 103rd Maintenance Squadron. “He’s very caring. When he walks in a room, you wait to hear what he has to say. He’s very energetic. If you’re having a rough day, he’s somebody you want to be around to pick you up. He’s a very kind, very thoughtful, smart, charismatic, dedicated individual.”
Rahman’s caring nature led him to spring into action during a crisis on July 3, 2019. He recalled enjoying a normal day on the job at Jim’s Pizza in Windsor, Connecticut before, suddenly, looking out of a window and seeing a car flip and land on its roof on the street outside the restaurant. Rahman didn’t think twice before racing out of the restaurant toward the wrecked vehicle. The driver of the vehicle, trapped beneath a deployed airbag, yelled for help. According to eye-witness reports, Rahman ran and dove toward the car, then worked quickly to free the man before the vehicle could catch fire. Despite the tension, Rahman remained calm and relied on his experience as a former lifeguard to guide him in removing the man from the vehicle without causing additional injuries.
“There was some sort of rope that was caught on his arm, so I yanked the rope with my left arm, and I took him out with the right,” said Rahman. “There was just so much adrenaline that I could just pull him right out. I tried to be careful after that, because I had some knowledge from being a lifeguard, and I wasn’t sure if he had a spinal injury or not. I tried to support his head, pull him up slowly, and take him away from the car, because all you see in the movies is cars blowing up. I just didn’t want him, or both of us, to get caught up in that.”
Retired Hartford police detective Pamela Stevens, who was in the restaurant at the time of the incident, stated in an affidavit that Rahman may have saved the driver’s life. Months later, Shepard obtained a copy of the affidavit. After reviewing the details of the incident, he felt compelled to nominate Rahman for the 2020 USO Service Member of the Year Award.
“I thought, okay, I should do something with this to reward this individual, to highlight the heroism, to highlight the valor, and to highlight core values,” said Shepard.
Shepard’s high opinion of Rahman is not only based on his act of heroism, but also on the positive attitude and strong work ethic Rahman has displayed as an aircraft fuel system apprentice with the 103rd Maintenance Squadron. As a traditional Guardsman (a member of the Guard who serves part-time), Rahman often volunteers to work additional days, enduring a heavy workload.
“He does everything that we all share the workload to do,” said Shepard. “He goes in the fuel tanks. He’ll scrape sealant. He does leak evaluations. He’s been doing training on electrical components and fuel pumps. He’s removed and installed fuel lines. He has done a lot of things required of him at a training level and never once complained about it. When I call him to say ‘hey, can you come in on orders next week?’ he always does the best he can to come in here and get it done, and that’s admired.”
Shepard recognized that Rahman’s actions on the day of the incident and his overall performance exemplify what it means to live by the Air Force core values.
“Bottom line, he represents the Air Force core values- integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do,” said Shepard. “I see that. He’s upfront with everything he does. If he makes a mistake, he owns it. If I ask him to do something, or he has a task to do, he does it, 100 percent, every time, and he does it the best that he can.”
While Rahman appreciates being recognized for his actions, the recognition is not all about him; it is about his commitment to something greater than himself, said Rahman. As a young child, Rahman saw his mother, Safia, become the first female, Pakistani Muslim to serve in the Hartford Police Department. He knew then that he, too, wanted to be part of something bigger. Later, as a cadet in the Windsor High School Air Force Junior ROTC, he decided that he would pursue his goal after graduation by joining the Connecticut Air National Guard.
As Rahman accepted the USO Service Member of the Year Award before an audience of leaders and mentors, he thought about his commitment to others. When the Adjutant General gave him the floor to speak, Rahman began by thanking everyone for their support. He then informed everyone that he would soon be donating bone marrow to his younger cousin, who suffers from a rare bone marrow disease. Rahman ended his speech by, once again, thanking everyone for their support. It was the type of acceptance speech that one may expect from an Airman who didn’t think twice before rushing to rescue a man from a potential death trap. For Rahman, commitment to others, a condition of living by the Air Force core values, is a way of life.
“There’s something about being a part of something bigger than myself,” said Rahman. “I just love being part of the Air Force. Everybody takes care of each other, you know. I want to be in a position where I can be able to take care of people. If I can make an impact on someone’s life once, even if it’s just making their day better, that is enough.”